Issues of access for persons with disabilities are something that should be of concern to everyone in society. Contrary to what some may think, accessibility issues do not just affect one segment of society. It affects all of us. Here are just some of the reasons why.
We are losing out on the voices of the disabled. When people are not able to access work, public forums, or other kinds of gatherings, we are missing out on the opinions and contributions of an entire group of intelligent, productive citizens.
We are putting money before compassion. We supposedly live in a technologically advanced, enlightened society, yet progress in accessibility has been slow and plodding. The reason is most likely the bottom line. Making all busses and buildings accessible costs money, possibly making costs exceed yearly budgets. However, access should be factored into these budgets in the first place. If the bottom line is more important to businesses and organizations than making sure everyone has access to goods and services, it makes us all look bad. We should be lobbying for accessibility – all of us.
Disability is more common than we may think. Between physical and mental conditions, I’m willing to wager just about everyone is related to, or at least knows someone who deals with a disability on a daily basis. As a result, this isn’t an issue that is restricted to a very specific demographic. It’s personal. And it can become even more personal at different times in life. Just ask anyone who has found his or herself in the role of caregiver for an aging and ailing parent. Accessibility issues affect caregivers also.
Disability can strike at any time. Life is fragile and can change in an instant. Accidents. Development of chronic illnesses (both physical and mental). Sure, everything may be all right now, but who knows what can happen ten, twenty years from now, or even tomorrow. Working for the rights of the disabled is not only the responsibility of everyone, it is also ensuring security for the futures of those who do not yet need these services, but eventually will.
I have heard of high school students taking certain life skills-type classes doing something called “disability for a day.” They spend a day in the role of someone with a disability, by doing things like wearing a blindfold, putting duct tape over their mouths, or wheeling themselves around all day in a wheelchair. However, at the end of the day, they can take off the blindfold, rip off the tape (ouch!), or get up from the wheelchair – most likely with greater empathy for people who deal with these issues on a daily basis.
On a more positive note, according to an Edmonton Journal article published in late April, employers are more eager to hire people with disabilities because of the labour shortage caused by the current oil boom. Hopefully, this will pave the way for employers to focus on the abilities rather than the disabilities, and encourage more workplaces and other locations to improve their access and facilities. In the meantime, everyone needs to be an advocate for disability issues.
Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer in Edmonton. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.